Paul Krishnamurty previews and recommends bets in all five matches scheduled for the opening day pat the Crucible Theatre - all of which will be streamed live on Betfair Exchange and Sportsbook...
"Marco Fu's season has been decimated by eyesight problems and his career is under threat. Without any public evidence of a return to even a competitive standard, he must be opposed at odds-on."
We really couldn't have asked for a better opening to this year's World Championship, with the top two contenders both in action. As is traditional, defending champion Mark Selby will kickstart proceedings against Joe Perry at 10am, followed by Ronnie O'Sullivan versus Stephen Maguire at 2.30pm.
I'm not backing an upset in either, but don't expect either or indeed any of these favourites to have an easy ride. All the qualifiers are 'match fit' after three best of 19s at Ponds Forge and most are expected to compete strongly.
Haotian can get the better of Fu again
Before getting to them, though, here's the day one nap. Marco Fu's season has been decimated by eyesight problems and his career is under threat. Without any public evidence of a return to even a competitive standard, he must be opposed at odds-on. Fu hasn't played since being whitewashed at the Masters and has taken a total break from snooker. Given the prize money guaranteed for top-16 players, he was always bound to turn up at the Crucible. Whether he's ready is another matter.
Haotian doesn't, in my view, have quite the same potential as some other emerging Chinese players such as Cao Yupeng or Yan Bingtao, but he's already achieved plenty for a 20 year-old. He reached the Northern Ireland semi-finals in November and showed more matchplay mettle in reaching the last-16 of the China Open. Notably, he also beat Fu at the UK Championship.
Perry can push Selby a long way
Selby is famous for making hard work of lesser opponents in the early rounds and I'll be surprised if this is one-sided. Perry won a high-standard qualifier against Mark Davis on Wednesday and has a better record than most against the world number one, trailing just 6-5 over their careers. Winning seven frames, and therefore beating our 3.5 Frame Handicap, is certainly within range. Include that at 4/5 in accas.
A correct score punt on Ronnie
I can vividly remember the moment when O'Sullivan broke Maguire's heart in the 2005 first round here with a sensational comeback, and ever since the Rocket has dominated one of the players he most respects. The Scot has often played well in their encounters, such as in the World Grand Prix semis, and he had plenty of chances when they met at the same stage of the UK Championship. If Ronnie is off his game then it could be close but Maguire didn't show peak form in the qualifiers.
Wager that we'll see at least three centuries
Without taking anything away from the admirable Wilson, who keeps bringing something close to his A-game to the biggest events, this is a potential upset. Stevens is a Crucible specialist - a nine-time quarter-finalist no less - and a match for anybody when in form. That has become a rare phenomenon but there have been definite signs of life over the past couple of months. I'm loathe to pick the winner but do expect some decent breaks.
This could be a long one
Ali Carter v Graeme Dott
Finally two Crucible specialists, with a quintet of final appearances between them, look set for a long match. Dott has had the edge in recent times, winning four of their last five meetings, including 10-7 at the same stage last year. If forced to have an outright bet, Dott at 5/4 would be it. However this has 10-9 written all over it, so either a series of correct scores from 10-7 upwards, or a Total Frames bet via the exchange appeals most.
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